Violence against women has ripple effects that spread out through lives and communities. Once you know that, you can see those ripples all around you. You can see them destabilising people’s health, their aspirations and their relationships. They are present in all kinds of insidious ways, in the media, politics and even economics, in the gaps and silences where women’s voices should be heard. I want a society where girls and women don’t have to live with the fear of violence and where, if it does occur, they know that they have the full support of those around them.
Dr Michael Salter is a lecturer in criminology at the University of Western Sydney where he teaches on gender, crime and violence. He specialises in the study of multi-perpetrator physical and sexual offences against children and women, particularly where there is an organised component. In 2013 he published a book called Organised Sexual Abuse which documented the life histories of adults who had experienced organised abuse in childhood. One of the findings of that project was that some women continue to be abused by groups and networks as adults.
While he intends to keep pursuing this line of research, focusing particularly on the adult experience of prolonged and organised abuse, Michael’s focus has broadened over time to cover a wide range of areas, including social work, child protection, therapy and counselling, policing and the law. His current research interests include child sexual abuse and its impacts across the lifespan, medico-legal responses to gendered violence, mental illness and substance abuse in traumatised populations.
An example of Michael’s current research is the role of online and digital technology in representations of violence, particularly addressing the social and legal aspects. He notes that new technologies open up new opportunities for children and women to participate in public life but that these technologies have also introduced new dangers. In his research with young people, he has found that compromising photos posted online have different impacts on girls and women in comparison to boys and men. Boys and men can shrug off an embarrassing photo but girls and women can find themselves harassed and vilified. In other words, research into new technologies reveals that the old entrenched social codes that approved of sexual freedom for men but placed severe restrictions on women, have not really changed in spite of the optimism about social change in the position of women.
Michael Salter describes himself as having grown up in a safe and loving family. He graduated from Eltham College in Melbourne in 1997 and was awarded his Bachelor of Arts (Honours) at the University of Melbourne in 2004. In his early twenties Michael spent a period of time looking after a friend who had been abused as a child and was continuing to be abused as an adult. This experience brought him to the realisation that the study of violence against women and children, understanding the issues and in consequence helping to make them safe, was to be the focus of his work. He saw at first hand the personal devastation that violence against women can wreak, and the difficulties that survivors can face trying to protect themselves and find appropriate healthcare.
Michael is proud of the fact that the friend he helped is now safe and happy, with a bright future. He said that she perhaps realised more than he did how profoundly he had been affected by her experiences. It was she who first suggested that he should become an academic and study violence against women as a vocation. His PhD in public health awarded by the University of New South Wales in 2010 and his book, Organised Sexual Abuse, were the results of this study. Michael Salter has also contributed chapters to other books as well as producing many journal articles. He regularly presents conference papers on gender-based violence.
Michael suggests that there is a real need to understand violence against women in context and to recognise how women’s vulnerability to victimisation is reinforced by government decision-making. Policies that increase income inequality, such as the reduction of pensions, remove social safety nets and create barriers to women’s economic or political participation; they are also associated with increased rates of domestic and sexual violence. When governments promote austerity or economic rationalisation, it is women who bear the brunt of the financial stress and anxieties that are unleashed.
Michael does believe, however, that there is reason for optimism. ‘We have reached a tipping point on violence against women. Women and children are increasingly likely to report victimisation, and the community and authorities are more likely to believe them. This creates the opportunity to have a much more mature and nuanced conversation about violence, abuse and trauma.’ Michael Salter’s work, his research and its dissemination, is focused upon facilitating a much better informed, more mature conversation, which will be a powerful way of lessening violence against women.